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Colossian Blog
September 19, 2018 | Michael Gulker

Giving Reason for the Hope that is Within Us

In my previous post, I posited the possibility that we as believers have lost our “theological imagination.” Such an imagination opens doors to new ways of thinking, especially when we are engulfed in deep cultural divides and unable to envision anything beyond the tedious FOX & CNN polarities. I suggested that our ability to be a hopeful people is rooted in our capacity to imagine and live in God’s faithfulness to us through Christ. Because of Christ’s sacrificial death, we are freed from sin and the fear of death to love as he loved—sacrificially.

I left you with this question to ponder: How will others experience resurrection hope if we don’t follow Christ by shouldering our cross and loving even those with whom we disagree? Perhaps you, like me, have found that the call to love sacrificially is quickly silenced in the din of our postmodern world.

It’s easier to blame our lack of hope on those across the cultural divide rather than our own fear and failure to live into God’s kingdom now. We often lose sight of the resurrection and its power to free us from the hopelessness that seeps in from the endless rancor of warring rhetoric. Might our culture’s “zombie apocalypse” narrative be a direct result of Christians failing to witness to a real resurrection hope?

This world’s only hope—our only hope—of experiencing Christ’s sacrificial love is to witness Christians willing to lay down their lives, or at least their arguments, for their enemies.

Are we willing to embody that hope? If we are, we will slowly and almost imperceptibly begin to represent the good news and become a tantalizing morsel of the hope for which our world is desperate. 

What if the cultural polarization evident in our globalized and fragmented age turns out to be our best opportunity to let the reconciling power of the gospel shine most brightly? What if this fear, polarization, and division is creating a new, post-Christendom appetite for the ministry of reconciliation given to us by Christ? 

Bland optimism? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s the gospel opportunity set before us each day. We are made to hope. We long to hope. We need to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Pet.3:15).  Ironically, it’s only as we learn to resituate other forms of hope—wealth, success, personal ability, physical beauty, offspring, a long life—pouring them out for those we have been called to serve, that we come to know the genuine hope found in our risen Lord. 

Even when we do this effectively and faithfully, the world doesn’t suddenly reshape itself in the image of our hope. Instead it requires, as it did with Jesus, that God vindicates our lives in the resurrection. No, that’s not quite right, is it? God has already vindicated our lives through Christ, and his resurrected life—the life that was, and is, and is to come—is our life.

That’s why The Colossian Forum’s mission is to equip the church—to equip you—with concrete practices that will train and free you to walk confidently into places of brokenness and alienation, and love sacrificially. Our prayer is that you will both taste and be a taste of the hope we have in Christ.

Moving from fear to hope is our task. And that is the theme of our first conference to be held this week, September 20-22, 2018. Over 150 attendees will gather to learn more about practicing hope in the midst of cultural despair. We’re all struggling toward hope. I hope that you’ll continue on this journey with us—practicing, praying, loving, experiencing Christ’s power—as, together, we persistently move from fear to hope. 

 

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Applying Faithful Imagination to Life's Hardest Problems
April 5, 2019 | Clint Westbrook
Applying Faithful Imagination to Life's Hardest Problems
My friend Jake* had snot running down his face. The kind that comes with a good cry, or, in this case, a bad cry. Jake had been struggling with depression for a few years, and he was having a breakdown in front of his parents and his then-girlfriend, Anna. This particular bout of depression was especially dark, leading Jake to say some scary things—things that make loved ones worry about the future.  Jake's snot kept running, mixing with his tears. Anna had been a force for good in Jake’s life, but she couldn’t always pull him back from the ledge; anyone who loves someone with depression knows the feeling. So, in that moment, she did what anyone would do: she reached over and spread Jake’s snot all over his face.  That’s right. In Jake’s deepest despair, Anna decided that what he really needed was to have his snot smeared from his lip to his eyebrows. Unconventional, to say the least, but the mood immediately shifted. Jake burst out laughing. His family laughed, and Anna (I’m sure) breathed a deep sigh of relief. In that moment, Anna had made the perfect move. It wasn’t a cure for the deep-seated depression, but it was just the right thing, at just the right time. And it gave Jake the breath of air that he desperately needed. It made no sense in the moment, but, looking back through an informed lens, it makes all the sense in the world.  At The Colossian Forum, we would call that a moment of faithful imagination. It is our deeply held belief that the moments where we feel most helpless—moments of conflict in dealing with the deepest hurts and the hardest questions—are the moments where we most need the abiding power of the Holy Spirit to provide us with the tools to bring reconciliation. The tools to imagine new ways to be obedient, especially when it's most difficult. Faithful imagination asks the God of the universe to show up—right here and right now—to give us something we don’t have on our own: a way forward. We need to love our brothers and sisters while speaking the truth of the Bible; we need to comfort those who are hurting when we don’t have answers; we need to reflect light in darkness when we don’t have words; and we need to know that God is giving us the tools we need to do it all well.  But how? There is no easy answer—no silver bullet. Instead, there is the power of the Gospel to transform us into the kinds of people who can bring a new imagination into the most difficult problems. Jesus Christ lived on this earth, in human form, living a perfect life. Life was no simpler then. And yet Christ did something for us that would change the course of history by submitting himself to be crucified for us. To die, to be buried, and to rise again to give us eternal life with him. We, as Christians, believe in that momentous act as the most important one in history.  We also believe that it means something today. It empowers us, through the Holy Spirit, to cultivate imaginative ways to navigate the most difficult problems we face. The power of the resurrection isn’t confined to one day 2,000 years ago, and it doesn’t start and stop on Sunday mornings. The power of the resurrection makes a difference today. Right here, right now.  The Colossian Forum’s mission is to provide some of the tools and practices that help to form us into the kinds of Christians who can bring Gospel-centered imagination to the most difficult problems—to form us into the kinds of souls who ask the Holy Spirit for just the right thing at just the right time. Even when that means an unexpected move to bring a loved one out of the deepest despair. It worked for Jake and Anna. As it turns out, they are now married and have two beautiful kids, adding plenty of runny noses to the family.  If you would like to learn more about The Colossian Forum, attend an event, or sign up for our small-group leader training, we would love to connect. Get more information here, and stay connected with us here. *This story is true, but the names have been changed. 
Uncovering the Beauty of Christ in a Messy World - A Journey toward Hope
March 15, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Uncovering the Beauty of Christ in a Messy World - A Journey toward Hope
February proved to be an especially painful month, watching so many profound, encumbered church conflicts play out on a global stage. The Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church held global summits on sexual abuse, and faith and sexual orientation, respectively. And the Southern Baptist Convention convened to decide the fate of churches accused of covering up widespread sexual abuse. While the illumination of these issues is essential, the path toward hope and reconciliation for all involved seems dim and rife with deep division. As we pray for all those involved and mourn victims’ sufferings, we also pray that churches around the world can, by God’s grace, get better at engaging these conflicts in ways that reflect Christ. A Community that Acts Christian At The Colossian Forum, it is our deepest desire to remind churches of a rich, beautiful vision of unity in Christ and to foster a community that acts Christian, especially in the face of conflict. I know this is possible. I know because I’ve seen it. This beauty was pervasive — palpable even — at our first public conference, Moving from Fear to Hope: Christian Practices for Polarized Times. We’d hoped the event would create awareness of the gift of conflict as a God-given opportunity for spiritual growth. We also hoped to foster a Community of Practice that would fuel ongoing personal and church culture transformation. But we discovered much more. The enthusiasm and encouragement of our participants revealed an acute, gaping hunger for a more attractive way to live in this fragmented and fearful world. And more than that, we actively shared in the hope-giving wisdom within the Christian tradition which can help us live out that beauty. Christ's Beauty in Ordinary Places Yet, we’re also learning that we can’t always expect beauty to show up in some revolutionary way, because, so often, it’s radically ordinary. It shows up in pedestrian practices — those daily rituals of relating to one another that we tend to take for granted. This is why much of our conference was dedicated to introducing one particular set of very ordinary practices that we call The Colossian Way.  The Colossian Way isn’t rocket science. It’s just our way of engaging conflict as an act of worship instead of an act of war. We do this by reminding ourselves that when we as Christians gather in the name of Jesus, we’re doing something markedly different than the rest of the world. When we gather in Jesus’ name, our primary job isn’t to make sure our side wins—because Jesus has already won. It isn’t to make things come out right in the end—they already have, and will, but not because of us. It isn’t even up to us to make sure that God is glorified. After all, we can’t glorify God unless the Spirit moves among us.  Instead, when we gather in the name of Jesus, our only goal is to practice Jesus’ own way of life in the manner in which we relate to each other. Traditionally, we practice breaking bread together, we practice sharing the cup, we practice hearing his Word — all in remembrance of what Christ has already done for us through his sacrificial love. And because of this, we now have the privilege of doing this for one another. It is in the midst of these practices that we open up a space within ourselves for the Holy Spirit to do a new thing — to transform us, who were divided, into the image of Christ for the sake of the world. Beauty in Transformation I was honored to hear of one such transformation a few years ago from one of our Colossian Way participants. After completing the 10-week journey, a woman found herself caring for her ex-husband’s aging parents because in addition to abandoning her, he also had abandoned them. When her ex-father-in-law became ill, she was there. When he needed Hospice care and eventually passed away, she was there. When her ex-mother-in-law later also became ill and needed care, she was there. One day, her ex-mother-in-law asked her why she chose to care for them. The woman explained that her experience with The Colossian Way had opened up space in her heart to hear the Spirit’s call and to ask the question, “What does love require of me?” Instead of being revengeful and right, she chose to lay down her life and take up selfless love that is reflective of Christ. It is this kind of story that fuels me and leads me to return to the simple, beautiful practices of our faith, especially amidst conflict. A Journey toward Hope God has already given us everything we need to be faithful right in the heart of conflict, and yet (surprise!), we didn’t quite achieve world peace in our single, three-day conference last fall. But we did scratch the surface of an intriguing possibility. Now, we need to practice. Fortunately, no—providentially—for us, our world, our churches, and our families give us all the opportunities we’ll ever need to get that practice! If we begin to live into a set of ordinary practices like The Colossian Way, we join a story started long ago—a story forming within us the right fears and the right hopes, and opening us to the call of the Spirit. But moving into the beauty of Christ right in the heart of conflict isn’t a one-time affair. It’s a journey toward hope.  That’s why we’re entitling this year’s conference—Gather, Practice, Witness: A Journey toward Hope. It will take place September 12-14 at the Prince Conference Center on the Calvin College campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Between now and then, we will be thinking, writing, inviting, and crafting workshops along these lines to empower individuals, leaders, pastors, parents, business people, students, and scholars to gather in the name of Jesus, to practice loving each other across difference, and to witness the body of Christ built up and give witness to the deepest desire and reality of the world. Gather, Practice, Witness are at the heart of The Colossian Way. I invite you to join us along this journey toward a better way of living together—a journey toward hope. 

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